Getting there & away
To enter Belgium and Luxembourg you need a valid passport or, for EU nationals, travel documents (ie ID card or passport). By law, everyone in Belgium, including tourists, must carry some sort of ID on them at all times. For foreign visitors, this means your passport.
The airline industry and the way travellers book tickets has changed dramatically in recent years. Once you’d automatically go to a travel agent rather than direct to an airline for a bargain fare, but that’s no longer the case. The growing number of ‘no-frills’ carriers operating in the US and northwest Europe, which mostly sell direct to travellers, is responsible for the change. One such airline flying into Belgium is Ryanair. Unlike the ‘full-service’ airlines, no-frills carriers often make one-way tickets available at around half the return fare, meaning it’s easy to put together a return ticket when you fly into one place but leave from another.
The internet has also changed ticketing. Many airlines, full-service and no-frills, offer some excellent fares to web users. They may sell seats by auction or simply cut prices to reflect the reduced cost of electronic selling. Many travel agents around the world also have websites, which can make the internet a quick and easy way to compare prices.
Three car-ferry services exist between Belgium and the UK. Fares and schedules vary widely according to seasonal demand.
The following are the operators:
P&O (Belgium 02 710 64 44; UK 0870-520 2020; www.poferries.com) Sails overnight from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull in the UK (14 hours) and charges from €162/245 one way/return for two passengers, a car and cabin.
Superfast Ferries (Belgium 050 25 22 52; UK 0870-234 0870; www.superfast.com) Ultramodern ferry sails overnight three times per week between Zeebrugge in Belgium and Rosyth in Scotland (18 hours). Fares start at €92/165 one way/return for a car. Adult passengers pay from €60 one way.
TransEuropa Ferries (Belgium 059 34 02 60; UK 01843-595 522; www.transeuropaferries.com) Ferries sail three times daily from Ostend to Ramsgate in the UK (four hours). Fares start at €60/120 one way/return for a car (passengers included).
The main motorways into Belgium are the E19 from the Netherlands, the E40 from Germany, the E411 from Luxembourg and the E17 and E19 from France. Into Luxembourg, the main roads are the E411 from Belgium, the A4 and the E25 from France, and the E44 from Germany. If travelling from any of these countries, fill up in Luxembourg – fuel prices here are among the lowest in Western Europe. There are no controls at border crossings into Belgium and Luxembourg. Plans are afoot to introduce a €60 motorway toll when entering Belgium.
The only bus company operating between France and Belgium or Luxembourg is Eurolines (0892 89 90 91; www.eurolines.fr). Buses depart daily from Paris to Brussels (one way €25, 3¾ hours, nine daily), Antwerp (€25, 4¾ hours, one daily), Mons (€22, 2¾ hours, two daily) and Liège (€25, 4¾ hours, one daily). There are also less frequent services to Ghent (€20, three hours, one daily), Kortrijk (€20, 2¾ hours, one daily), Leuven (€23, five hours, one daily) and Luxembourg City (€27, 5½ hours, two weekly).
Thalys fast trains efficiently link Paris’ Gare du Nord station with Brussels’ Gare du Midi (one way €74.50, 1½ hours, hourly). There are also services to Antwerp (€83.30, 2¼ hours, seven per day) as well as Bruges (€88.70, 2½ hours, one per day) and Liège (€92.30, 2½ hours, seven per day).
To Luxembourg, SNCF trains depart five times daily from Paris-Est station to Luxembourg City (€47, four hours, six daily). The high-speed TGV is expected to start operating between Luxembourg City and Paris in 2007 or 2008.
The main company is Deutsche Touring/Eurolines (Frankfurt 069 790 350; www.deutsche-touring.com), which has buses departing daily from several German cities, including Aachen, Frankfurt and Cologne, to a limited number of destinations in Belgium. As an example, there are buses from Frankfurt to Brussels (one way €34, 5¼ hours, one daily) and Liège (€34, 5¼ hours, one daily).
There’s a bus connection from Frankfurt-Hahn to Luxembourg City (one way €17, 1¾ hours, 10 daily).
Thalys trains link Cologne with Liège (one way €25) and Brussels (€40, 2¼ hours, six daily). Regular Thalys fares are more expensive than ordinary Deutsche Bahn (DB; 01805-99 66 33; www.bahn.de) train fares; however, the Thalys discounted return tickets usually work out cheaper than DB fares.
Eurolines (020-560 8788; www.eurolines.nl) operates daily buses between the Netherlands and Belgium or Luxembourg. From Amsterdam buses run to Antwerp (one way €18, 2½ hours, six daily), Brussels (€18, 3½ hours, six daily), Bruges (€18, 4¾ hours, three daily) and Luxembourg City (€22, 8½ hours, one daily).
Thalys trains link Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam with a handful of cities in Belgium. From Amsterdam, there are Thalys trains to Antwerp (€37, two hours, five daily) and Brussels (€44, 2¾ hours, five daily).
With the increase in availability of low air fares, buses no longer offer the cheapest public transport to and around Europe. But if you prefer to stay on the ground, buses are a good deal.
From London’s Victoria coach station, Eurolines runs buses to Brussels (one way/return €41/69, eight hours, six daily) and various other cities in Belgium, including Antwerp (€41/69, 8½ hours, two daily), Liège (€41/69, nine hours, two daily) and Luxembourg City (one way €50, 11½ hours, five per week). Prices in high season are €5 to €10 higher. Bookings can be made through Eurolines or any National Express (www.nationalexpress.com) office.
An alternative to Eurolines is Busabout (020-7950 1661; www.busabout.com). This UK-based company is aimed at younger travellers, but has no upper age limit. It runs coaches along interlocking European circuits, known as the Northern, Southern and Western Loops. The Northern Loop passes through Belgium, stopping in Bruges en route from Paris to Amsterdam (May to October only). Prices start with a one-loop pass for €455.
The Channel Tunnel allows for a land link between Britain and France. The high-speed Eurostar (London 08705 186 186; Brussels 02 528 28 28; www.eurostar.com) passenger train service uses the Channel Tunnel to connect London–Paris or London–Brussels. Ten trains per day Monday to Friday, and seven per day on weekends make the journey from London to Brussels’ Gare du Midi. Fares include travel on to any train station in Belgium (for example, you can choose to stop in Brussels or immediately continue on to say Bruges or Ghent at no extra cost).
A wide variety of fares is available. The regular 2nd-class fare (known as Standard) is UK£149/298 one way/return. The equivalent fare in 1st class (meal included) is UK£205/400. These tickets are fully refundable and you can make changes to the date and time of travel.
Other tickets may not be as flexible and usually have conditions attached. A fully-flexible Leisure Select ticket (return only) costs UK£329 and requires that you stay away a Saturday night. The weekend-day-return Leisure Select costs from UK£105. In addition, there are often special deals.
Youth tickets (one way/return UK£40/59) are available to those aged under 26; children’s fares (from four to 11 years) are UK£25/50 in 2nd class and UK£50/100 in 1st.
Eurostar tickets are sold at main-line railway stations in the UK.
The Eurotunnel (UK 08705 35 35 35; Belgium 070 22 32 10; France 03 21 00 61 00; www.eurotunnel.com) vehicle service travels between terminals in Folkestone and Coquelles (5km southwest of Calais in France). Trains carry cars, motorcycles and bicycles with their passengers/riders. Trains run 24 hours, every day of the year, with four departures per hour in peak times. During the 35-minute crossing, passengers can sit in their cars or walk around the air-conditioned, soundproofed rail carriage. The entire process, including loading and unloading, takes about an hour.
Fares vary enormously depending on the time of year, the day of the week and the time of day. A return fare for a car (driver and all passengers included) starts at UK£160 but prices can increase substantially in peak periods. Special promotional fares, such as Short-Day Saver and Five-Day FlexiPlus, are worth investigating.
The fare for a motorcycle (with riders) starts at UK£22 for a same-day return and UK£38 for longer stays. Bicycles (with rider) cost UK£15 return but can be taken on limited services only.
Entering both countries is straightforward, no matter what form of transport you choose to get there.
Brussels National Airport (BRU; 0900 70 000; www.brusselsairport.be) Belgium’s main international airport.
Liège (LGG; 04 234 84 11; www.liegeairport.com) Located at the city’s former military base, Bierset.
Luxembourg airport (LUX; 24 64 1; www.lux-airport.lu) Luxembourg’s only international airport, also known as Aéroport de Luxembourg, 6km east of the capital. A big new glass terminal, under construction next to the original building, is expected to be finished by the end of 2007.
Belgium’s main international carrier is Brussels Airlines, recently renamed following a merger between SN Brussels Airlines and Virgin Express. The only other Belgian airline is VLM Airlines, with flights from Brussels National and Antwerp airport to London City.
Airlines (luchtvaartmaatschappijen in Flemish, lignes aériennes in French) flying into Belgium include the following (with Belgian phone numbers) :
Aer Lingus (El; 02 548 98 48; www.aerlingus.com)
Air Canada (AC; 02 627 40 88; www.aircanada.ca)
Air France (AF; 02 526 12 70; www.airfrance.com)
Alitalia (AZ; 02 551 11 22; www.alitalia.be)
American Airlines (AA; 02 711 99 69; www.aa.com)
British Airways (BA; 02 717 32 17; www.britishairways.com)
Brussels Airlines (SN; 070 35 11 11; www.brusselsairlines.com)
Continental Airlines (CO; 02 643 39 39; www.continental.com)
Japan Airlines (JL; 02 745 44 00; www.jal.co.jp)
Lufthansa (LH; 070 35 30 30; www.lufthansa.be)
Ryanair (FR; 0902 88 007; www.ryanair.com)
United Airlines (UA; 02 713 36 00; www.unitedairlines.be)
VLM Airlines (VG; 03 287 80 80; www.flyvlm.com)
The national carrier, Luxair, flies to European destinations including London, Paris and Frankfurt. The airline’s four decades of accident-free flying came to an end in 2002 when one of its planes crashed while landing at Luxembourg airport, killing 15 people.
Airlines flying into Luxembourg include the following:
Air France (AF; 27 30 20 06; www.airfrance.lu)
British Airways (BA; 43 86 47; www.britishairways.com)
Czech Airlines (OK; Belgium 32 2 217 17 92; www.czechairlines.com)
Lufthansa (LH; 47 98 50 50; www.lufthansa.com)
Luxair (LG; 24 56 42 42, arrival & departure information 24 56 50 50; www.luxair.lu)
SAS Scandinavian Airlines (SK; Belgium 32 2 643 6900; www.flysas.com)
Swiss International Air Lines (LX; Switzerland 41 61 582 36 56)
TAP Portugal (TP; 47 98 21 33; www.flytap.be)
VLM Airlines (VG; 49 33 95; www.flyvlm.com)
My Travel (www.mytravel.com) UK.
The following are well-known agents for competitive fares:
As the Thalys fast train network linking Belgium with France, the Netherlands and Germany steadily expands, less and less people travel between Belgium and its neighbouring countries by plane. It’s almost as quick to go by train.
A few recommended travel agents include the following:
There isn’t really a low or high season for flights to Belgium or Luxembourg: prices depend more on special offers and availability of seats. Special offers usually involve booking in advance and being away a minimum number of nights or staying over a Saturday night.
The flight time from London to Brussels is one hour and 10 minutes. To compare the difference between flying from London to Brussels National Airport, or travelling by Eurostar train service, see boxed text,. A London–Antwerp flight also takes about an hour, but as there is no competition on this route and few flights it’s not an interesting option. The only airline servicing the route is the small Flemish company VLM Airlines. London to Luxembourg City also takes about an hour.
Competitive travel agencies include the following:
Flightbookers (0800 082 3000; www.ebookers.com)
STA Travel (0871 230 0040; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Competitive travel agencies include the following: